Palm House, Kew Gardens, London

Anna Liu & Mike Tonkin: Tonkin Liu Architects

We met in Hong Kong in 1994 with an interest in dismantling current myths and creating our own. Each era writes its own myths: through incidents, observations, riddles, quests, battles, ethos, victories. Here In 2022, what do we want our myth to be? It should be us finding a rational poetry through a better relationship with nature, to make the much-needed change for the climate crisis.

The Palm House in Kew Gardens is a work of rational poetry, supremely practical and fantastical in equal measures. Structure, construction, heating, ventilation, all integrate in a holistic entity. It is an architectural exemplar of beauty, economy, and technical innovation. Conceived in an era of scientific exploration, of conquering nature and other worlds, the Palm House is a grand house of nature. A cathedral, a curiosity cabinet, a shipping vessel all in one, it was designed to collect, archive, observe, experience, nurture, and learn from nature. It is an expressive civic symbol of its era, a physical embodiment of the grand myths of its time.

Digital, post-industrial, post-colonial, our era must forge its own myth. Lessons from nature tell us to care for the many rather than the few, to care for each other, for nature’s cycles, and for all its species. Digital tools have demonstrated the scale of the devastation we’ve unleashed on the planet, as well as nature’s astounding ingenuity. Let this moment, in the light and mist on the delicate staircase, sound a clarion call, not to look back, but to strive forward with all of our tools and ingenuity, for nature informed, nature inspired, nature driven architecture.